Calabar, the capital of Cross Rivers State, in south-south Nigeria, is gradually becoming the tourism capital of Africa, what with many events that go on in the city all year round. Also referred to as 'Canaan City', the town is a tourist destination of great renown. This isn’t just because of its geographical location and cleanliness, but also because of the rich history and outstanding culture. Calabar is adjourned on every side by the famous Calabar River, which played a big role during the slave trade era that prevailed in the region. Divided into two principal counties, Calabar Municipal and Calabar South Local Government Areas, the peaceful nature and friendly topography of Calabar makes it a must for tourists to visit whenever they are in Nigeria. This December presents another fun-fare for visitors to savour as the Calabar Carnival takes center stage.
The Calabar Carnival, believed to be the biggest street carnival in Africa, holds every year from the 1 of December to the 31 of December, with a lot of fanfare, glamour, excitement and enthusiasm. It was created in 2004 by the then governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, as a vision of making the state the number one tourist destination for Nigerians and tourist from all over the world.
To keep you in the mood for the Calabar Carnival, Pulse.ng brings you some insights into the town.
Myth 1: In Efik mythology, Abassi is considered to be the creator god. His wife, Atai, is known as the mediator. It is believed that Atai convinced Abassi to allow two humans (one man and one woman), also known as their children, to live on Earth, but forbade them to work or reproduce. The children were required to return to heaven with Abassi whenever he rang the dinner bell. These rules were established so that the Efik people would not surpass Abassi in wisdom or strength. Eventually the children disobeyed and Abassi killed them both. Abassi and Atai were disgusted and gave the human race two gifts, chaos and death. The gods also turned away from the people. It wasn’t until the Efik people started making human sacrifices for their sins that they believed Abassi and Atai started to hear their cries for help again.
Myth 2: The Efik Woman and the Fattening Room: The Fattening Room is a special room where brides-to-be are kept, fed and trained on how to treat their husbands. They are taught the rudiments of cooking, homemaking and every other thing that makes a good wife. According to this custom, every Efik bride-to-be is sent to the Fattening Room for a period of time, to learn how to be a wife with a difference. In the old days, a lady who had been betrothed, was sent into the Fattening Room immediately, until the day of her coming of age, i.e. her wedding day. Her husband-to-be and even her friends were not allowed to see her. The reason for the exclusivity is because while she is in training, she is being prepped, primed and polished, to be presented to the world as a special new being. Even on the day she comes of age, you can’t see her without dropping some cash at the door. A fattened Efik girl rounds off her fattening parade (Mbopo ceremony) in the market place. During this period, the girl is being cared for by older women and is not allowed to come in contact with other people. She is put in a room where, on a daily basis, is massaged three times, fed about six large portions of food, (like (ekpang) porridge, plantain, yam fufu and assorted pepper soups), drinks three pints of water three times a day and gets plenty of sleep. This process ensures the bride gets a healthy waistline. According to the Efik people, a woman who has a full figure, with a healthy waistline, is beautiful. In the Fattening Room, she is taught the way to present herself, the way to be an engaging conversationalist, the ways to cook and present her food, the way to sit, the way to walk, the way to dance, the way to speak and so much more delectable ways. She is taught the art of being a wife, a mother, a home maker and a hostess. Though the mythology of the fattening room is fast losing its importance, it is still one of those things that set the Efik people apart.
Myth 3: Killing Of Twins: It was also believed that twins were a disgrace to Abassi. It was thought to be an evil omen for a woman to give birth to twins; the woman would be burnt alive and the twins were taken and left for dead in the bush. There was also an option for the tribe to eat the twins rather than leave them in the bush. History has it that a female missionary, Mary Mitchell Slessor, came to Calabar in 1876, and she it was who stopped the killing of twins in the ancient town.
Myth 4: The One About Calabar Women: I don’t know if I should classify this into my list of myths but the Calabar women have become legendary when there is any discussion about women in Nigeria. There is this saying that Calabar women are blessed in many categories and that include care, sex, food, respect, courtesy and comfort. There is also this popular belief that their women are so good in bed and that they have the energy to go many rounds of sex without getting tired. It is believed that their huge appetite for sex has to do with the conviction in that part of the country that the way to a man’s heart is through sex; hence, they see it as the first thing to use in keeping their homes intact and prevent their men from having extra marital love affairs. This belief is hinged on the Fattening Room experience we have already talked about. It is true that Calabar women are different from women from other parts of the country and that anyone who is married to them is blessed and that forms part of the myth around them.
Myth 5: Cubans Are From Calabar: According to another prominent myth, the citizens of Cuba in the Caribbean Islands are descendants of the Efik people. Legend has it that an Efik leader and his entire village of Obutong were captured by the British slave traders and taken to their final destination, Havana in Cuba. This Efik Chief allegedly founded the Abakua society in Havana in the 1830s. The first Abakua group is named after Obutong, an Efik town in Calabar (Efi Kebuton). Most of the names mentioned in Abakua songs are places and names of the Efik people and towns of Calabar. These societies have become a cultural identity of the Cuban people.
Myth 6: Ekpe Cult Is The Judicial System: Masquerades are one of the oldest traditional and cultural events throughout the Efik land. It is accompanied with chant, songs and dances. This important occasion is very popular among the Efik people of Calabar as its roots are deep in the traditional religion. There are different kinds of Masquerades for various events like the coronation of the Obong (King) of Calabar, burial, Chieftaincy conferment and other seasonal celebrations and ceremonies. The most distinguished and highest of all other masquerades is the Ekpe Masquerade. While Ekpe is the name of a masquerade, the term is also the name of the Leopard and of the traditional sacred institution that owns the mask. The Ekpe society is also called the Leopard society because the Ekpe masquerade is a visual cultural reference to a Leopard; its costume, makeup and props define it as such. The link between the Efik people, the Ekpe society and the Leopard, goes back in time. Legend make us know that in time past, dating back to the 1800s, the Efik and their neighbours rebelled and the German colonial administration had to resettle the population into larger villages, for easier control. However, much social tension prevailed among the people, which resulted in witchcraft accusations, in which many suspected witches were murdered. Coincidentally, at the same time, witches were said to be killing people, man-eating Leopards were also mauling people in the communities. The killer Leopards were not deemed culpable. Rather, the communities interpreted the fearsome man-eating animals as the witches’ preferred form. The Leopard was then appropriated as part of the corporate ambience of the Ekpe cult. The Ekpe society is the most renowned traditional institution in Efik history, not just because of its spiritual or cultic functions, but also for the fact that the institution was a pre-colonial police and judiciary system. The Ekpe was vested with the powers of policing and bringing justice to the Efik kingdom.